One of the GOP’s many incomplete defenses of the president during the impeachment inquiry is the argument that Trump did nothing out of the ordinary by withholding $250 million in congressionally approved aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation which would alter the course of the 2020 election. “Presidents since the beginning of time have resisted Congress, and there’s been this sort of back and forth jockeying over what is sent,” Senator Rand Paul said in November, adding that Trump had “every right” to engage in a quid pro quo.
But as if the whole of the House Intelligence impeachment hearings didn’t already reveal the abnormal-to-the-point-of-unconstitutional nature of the president’s actions in Ukraine, newly unredacted emails between the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon cement the irregularity of Trump’s behavior. Correspondence published by Just Security, first obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, show that the Department of Defense was quite worried by the efforts that got Trump impeached. As Just Security summarizes:
The documents reveal growing concern from Pentagon officials that the hold would violate the Impoundment Control Act, which requires the executive branch to spend money as appropriated by Congress, and that the necessary steps to avoid this result weren’t being taken. Those steps would include notifying Congress that the funding was being held or shifted elsewhere, a step that was never taken. The emails also show that no rationale was ever given for why the hold was put in place or why it was eventually lifted.
The emails also confirm the president’s direct involvement in the scheme to withhold aid, a fact that the public has known about since October 3, when Trump confessed on the White House lawn that he wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. But the emails add to the preponderance of evidence: “Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold,” wrote OMB associate director of national security Michael Duffey to acting Pentagon comptroller Elaine McCusker on August 30.
The emails also bolster Democrats’ argument that the Senate impeachment trial must include Ukraine-related correspondence and witnesses that the White House blocked from appearing in the House inquiry, including the testimony of Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton. “The newly revealed unredacted emails are a devastating blow to Senator McConnell’s push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we’ve requested,” Chuck Schumer wrote in response to the Just Security report. “These emails further expose the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president’s decision to cut off aid to Ukraine to benefit himself.”
It’s unlikely, though, that Schumer’s call will do anything to break the stalemate that has emerged over the rules for the Senate trial. Aides for Schumer and Mitch McConnell said on Thursday that the two hadn’t spoken over the holiday, and Senator Josh Hawley announced that on Monday he will propose a measure to dismiss “this bogus impeachment for lack of prosecution.”